Having secured storage and rent free period for importers, Nigeria has taken a further drastic measure at decongesting the seaports during this period of Covid-19 lockdown by agreeing with haulage operators on reduced freight rates to encourage cargo evacuation from the ports.
At a meeting with the Council of Maritime Truck Unions and Associations (COMTUA), the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, said the sacrifice was imperative as the nation works to sustain the economy during this crisis period.
Bello told the truck owners that though the NSC had issued indicative freight rates as guide, and the measure conforms with global standards, the agency was not compelling obedience.
“We can’t continue to have price differentials at the whims and caprices of the (truck) owners, there must be some guidelines on freight rate, just like we are doing with shipping companies, terminal operators and consolidators. Everyone must have a price regime,” he said.
“We are not fixing the price, we are leaving that to demand and supply, but there must be some limit because shippers abroad make enquiries everyday but we are at a loss because (there is) no standard indicative rate. We want you to help us have a standard rate so that there will be competition.”
Bello assured that the agency would also meet the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to reduce their charges, adding: “We want you to look at the cost because everyone is making a sacrifice. Please don’t allow the Nigerian economy to be at standstill.
“We appeal to your patriotic sentiments to keep people in employment. Let us clear the cargoes. Right now, there are vessels lining up to come into the port to discharge, but there is no space. I know the usual strategy is bringing empties and taking laden, but we need to look at the need of the country and make sacrifice.
“So, I appeal to you to look at the cost because we don’t need astronomical or unrealistic cost, and these trucks must have easier access in and out in a very organised manner to take the already available cargoes.”
He explained that though the demurrage-free period the agency has secured during the lockdown and the 21-day rent-free period the NPA has secured from the terminal operators were “a relief and advantage to take as much cargoes as possible out of the port,” the haulage sector has become a limitation.
Bello lamented that though the roads are free at this period, cargo occupancy at the terminals was approaching 90 per cent because trucks were not coming to evacuate them.
Responding, the General Coordinator of COMTUA, Stephen Okafor, agreed to the truck owners reducing price to meet present realities, but demanded an expanded meeting at the instance of the NSC post-Covid-19 to draw up uniform freight rates for all truck owners.